World Superbike Track Guide: Laguna Seca

There are not many circuits in the world like the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Californian circuit offers a unique challenge in WorldSBK.

Led Zeppelin sang about Going to California and said, “I'll meet you up there where the path runs high. Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams, telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.” Unfortunately for the riders in WorldSBK when you stand at the top of the mountain at Laguna Seca the challenge facing riders who dream of a win truly is as hard as it seems. This highly technical race track demands precision, consistency, imagination and above all else experience.

Coming across the line riders will take a variety of lines and gears that are defined by their bike setup. In WorldSBK gear ratios are fixed for the season and as a result we see a lot of variety at Laguna Seca. Some riders will be forced to use six gears, whereas others will use only five around the 3.6km track. With the track snaking it's way throughout the Monterey hills around a lake, it offers a little bit of everything.

Double WorldSBK champion, Colin Edwards, once said that “Laguna features a bit of everything. There's everything from first gear corners to fifth gear corners. There's slow and fast corners. Cambered corners and off-camber corners. It runs uphill and downhill and has absolutely everything. There's also no time to relax on it because the straights are short. It's a battle out there every lap.”

That battle takes place over 21 laps, and with the summer break around the corner you can be sure that the field will be keen to go into it with some momentum. Momentum is key at Laguna Seca with one corner leading into the next and any mistake being compounded by being off line or out of sync in the following corner.

Laguna Seca is all about avoiding mistakes. At the start of the lap it's about getting turns four through six linked up. At the end of the lap it's about maintaining speed from the Corkscrew to the final corner. One mistake will ruin your lap and that's why it's so important to be able to maximize track time over the course of the weekend. Getting your eye in and being prepared for that one fast lap in qualifying is a huge challenge for riders around this twisting, technical race track.

While The Corkscrew gets the attention of the fans and photographers it's the first corner that scares the riders. With the pit wall to their left and a hill to their right the circuit tunnels towards the first corner of the lap. It's blind, uphill and taken flat out in fifth or sixth gear depending on the setting. The riders will see only blue sky and the tips of a trio of telegraph poles in the distance. You aim for the middle pole and hope that everything is clear across the brow of the hill.

It's a heart in your mouth corner but you need to be aggressive through here. Some riders will dab the rear brake to settle the bike across the crest but most will be concentrating on ensuring the right line and letting the bike run towards the outside of the track on the entry into Turn 2.

The wider you can be on the entry to Turn 2 the better. This is a double apex left hander where it's incredibly easy to be sucked into the corner when following another rider and this mistake can see you drift past the apex and run wide on the exit. Turn 2 rewards precision and patience.

As you exit this left hander riders will try to hold second gear on the way into the next corner. Turn 3 is flatter than it appears and can easily see riders trying to carry too much speed. Compounding this is that the corner is wide on the entry but tightens towards the exit. Having confidence in the front end is crucial through this corner and the feedback from the bike is a key part to getting it right.

With a variety of lines through turns 5 and 6, the rider's approach dictates much of how they find their lap time. During the race you can see riders get aggressive through here and try to force a move on the entry, but it sacrifices their speed on the exit of the corner. Turn 5 is a key corner because you can brake early, and while you sacrifice your entry speed that comes back to you in spades on the corner exit, and allows riders to get alongside each other on the entry to Turn 6.

The only problem is that Turn 6 has some natural defense mechanisms against overtaking in the form of undulations. A dip on the entry loads up the bike's suspension under braking, but once the rider is exiting the corner and starting to open the gas, the bike will be unloaded as it exits this dip. The gradient is incredibly steep on the exit, so it's important to have good drive onto the back straight.

A blind 150 mph kink greets the riders on the back straight before they come to the fabled Corkscrew. Threading the eye of a needle through Turn 7 leads directly into The Corkscrew, and picking the right moment to brake is crucial. It's possible to overtake on the entry, as we've seen on numerous occasions, but it's also incredibly easy to carry too much corner speed and run wide on the exit.

Coming into The Corkscrew all a rider can see is the blue of the Californian sky. It's blind on the entry and leads into a steep downhill corner which puts a huge amount of force through the bike. Likened to a roller coaster by all of the riders, you need a lot of confidence to flick the bike back to the right, but patience is needed as the rider waits for the suspension to load up before opening the throttle.

Through Rainey Curve the G-force starts to build for the riders after the compression at The Corkscrew. This allows the riders to be more aggressive as they throw the bike from side to side through the heavily banked left hander. For many, this is their favorite section of the track because of it's highly technical nature where one corner feeds into another.

From the Corkscrew to the final corner, it's all about momentum and avoiding a mistake. The final corner is just about picking the right braking marker and then picking up the throttle smoothly without pulling too big a wheelie. If you've done that you're on your way to a fast lap at Laguna Seca, but putting together a string of 21 laps is a real test of mettle.

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"This highly technical race track demands precision, consistency, imagination and above all else experience." This sentence should be more than enough to overcome whatever Paddock shortcomings that caused all the whining, and that ultimately played a large part in the "public" excuse offered for wiping it off the calendar. Reality is that the exciting and challenging racing took a back seat to the profits offered by far flung and inferior circuits who are will to pay the big bucks for a race, well attended or not, and whether or not offering good and challenging racing for fans and riders alike...not to mention the number of of riders who simply do not want to face the hardships presented by such a a challenging venue and racecourse...You'd almost think they were Professional Golfers complaining about a course that doesn't just let them stand back and whack. Laguna Seca is a great track, if you consider a great track one that challenges the racers and presents good racing...Sadly Moto GP and many of its participants do not use such criteria in their assigning the label of "great...

Unless they can find a way to also run Moto2 and Moto3, Dorna should not put Laguna Seca back on the schedule.  My $0.02.

Second problem with the track is that it is too easy for a slower rider to hold up a faster rider.

An improvement that should be made is changing the name from "Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca" to "Nicky Hayden Raceway Laguna Seca".

It's a crying shame MotoGp no longer comes to Laguna Seca. I'm still pissed that Jerry Burgess called it " a shitty little track". There were many great races there through the years. I  think Casey Stoner's pass of Jorge Lorenzo on the outside in turn one was one of the greatest ever passes in the history of MotoGp. Standing there watching it live is scary even as a spectator. The courage necessary as a rider to do it at speed is almost incomprehensable. I hope they return soon. We still have SBK, and it's good, but there is no substitute for the big names and the prototype bikes. 

You west coasters can have Laguna Seca, I'll take Indy any day, they know how to run a race and they like bikers there too. One can sit at the start finish across from the garages in the shade, with huge jumbo trons, great sound speakers, with those guys going by at 200+mph 25ft away with an absolute wall of sound! And no extra charge either.

Probably the worst race track ever for MotoGp bikes. The place is flat and boring. Laguna Seca has grandstands across from the pits and start/finish line too. At Laguna Seca you can walk to any part of the track. While standing 25 feet away from bikes going past at 200+ may be cool, the real racing is in the turns. Standing about half way down the corkscrew is a mindbender. Guys hard on the throttle going down hill. It's a sight and sound you can never forget. Same with turn 1. Glad you enjoy Indy, but I'll take Laguna Seca. 

You can get just as close at Indy and it offered longer sight lines. It's not boring at all! You must never have attended Indy MotoGP. Plus they had the Indy Mile!!!! How do you top that in one race weekend?!

+1 on the Indy Mile!  Best weekend of racing I've been to in a long time.  Dirt on Saturday, Pavement on Sunday!  And Indianapolis knows how to host a world class event.  

Great article! I grew up in the Bay Area and the first time I visited Laguna was 1961, the Monterey Grand Prix. Sterling Moss led Dan Gurney across the stripe, both in Lotus 19 Climax roadsters. Motorcycle road racing came there in the 1970's with KR dominating the field. They named Rainey Curve for Wayne who is a local resident of Salinas. I have asked Scramp to name Turn One after Nicky 69. He showed everybody how to attack that 150mph brow in 2005 and 2006. It was thrilling to watch him crest that top leaned over and pinned. Since then, many learned how to attack that turn, but it was Nick who showed them the way. Scramp tells me they are going to do something for Nick, but not what it will be. They only said it would be appropriate. In the latest issue of Motorcyclist, there is a Nicky tribute article. On page 6 a motorsports photographer named Andrew Wheeler noted how Nick seemed to have mastered T1 in those first two MotoGP grands prix. Last year he went to the WSBK event for the purpose of capturing Nick attacking that turn aboard his Honda. The image is fantastic! Gives me chills to look at it. Anyway, thanks for the article. And BTW, I liked Indy too. Very different, but very spectator friendly to get up close and personal to the action. 

^ well said!

In the mid to late 1970's my father would take me and my 2 brothers to Laguna to watch racing. We sat by a tree at the bottom of the corkscrew. It was...deeply impressive.

One of the best days of my life was learning to get around the track at speed on a race bike. T1 frightened me and I would roll off, preferring to focus on entry to T2. But it was the corkscrew that felt like magic.

I thought flip-flopping through flat chicanes felt good. Then came doing it while nearly falling. Oh!

Yeah, a bit small. Not enough passing opportunities. But WOW for riders. Especially glad to have been at the 2005 GP. Nicky was brilliant. Hoping he gets a turn named for him!